Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our former Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.
In mid-May, I attended the annual Ontario Prayer Breakfast, an opportunity for the Christian community to gather together to support our Members of Provincial Parliament and City Councillors in prayer. While there is normally a decent crowd at this event, the attendance was larger than normal this time with over 600 in attendance. The reason: Prem Watsa, the keynote speaker, is well known in Canada and internationally as one of Canada’s most successful CEOs and as a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Prem is often referred to as “the Warren Buffett of Canada.” He emigrated to Canada from India in the seventies, where he earned an MBA from the Ivey School of Business and the CFA designation. He went on to create Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, one of Canada’s most successful companies with assets of $43 billion, revenues of $10 billion and shareholders’ equity of $9 billion (all rounded US dollars).
As the controlling shareholder of Fairfax, Prem Watsa has shaped an enterprise steeped in his values that, in turn, are informed by his faith in Christ. In fact, Fairfax publishes its corporate values on its website. They are all great but one really popped out at me: “We are hard working but not at the expense of our families.” It is fair to say that this value is not the norm in the Bay Street corporate world that I recently exited!
Many times during his message, Prem gave thanks to “the good Lord” for the successes of Fairfax as well as the faithfulness of God during the good and the tough times. Regarding the latter, he cited his wife’s successful battle with cancer thirteen years ago as well as his successful battle shortly afterwards with several well heeled Wall Street hedge funds.
Humility is a fundamental virtue, particularly in leaders.
As I listened to Prem, it occurred to me that I could write several blog posts on the content of his talk (and maybe I will!). However, I will limit my comments to his humility. It shows on several levels.
First, and most importantly, Prem consistently gives God the credit for his success. Second, he goes out of his way to avoid the limelight, preferring instead to draw attention to the executive team at Fairfax. For example, consider this quote from a 2008 article in The Globe and Mail. “Over the decades, The Globe and Mail has named dozens of CEOs of the Year. Prem Watsa is the first, as far as anyone can recall, who tried to reject the honour. Vehemently.”
The Bible is very clear that humility is a fundamental virtue, particularly in leaders. Prem Watsa demonstrates that success and humility are not mutually exclusive. His example causes me to be more self aware in those situations where I am tempted to be less than humble!
Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.